TORONTO -- With his trademark suspenders now covered up by a navy blue Hockey Hall of Fame blazer with the words “Media Honoree” on the breast pocket, Rick Jeanneret looked into the audience at today’s Hall of Fame Media Awards luncheon and spoke from the heart like he always does.
“To be at this podium today is a bit surreal, standing among the iconic voices of my profession, and at the foot of the true giants of hockey down the street. It’s the honor of a lifetime, and I want to thank you for inviting me here today.”
Jeanneret is this year’s recipient of the Foster Hewitt Award for excellence in broadcasting, joining Roy MacGregor who received the Elmer Ferguson Award for his years of outstanding newspaper work with the Ottawa Citizen and Globe & Mail.
Both men received a plaque that will now hang in the Great Hall at the Hockey Hall of Fame, in addition to being recognized at tonight’s player induction ceremonies for Mats Sundin, Joe Sakic, Adam Oates and Pavel Bure.
Jeanneret accepted the award at a luncheon in downtown Toronto at the historic Design Exchange building, just a slapshot up the street from the Hockey Hall of Fame. He was joined by 20 family members, and a contingent of Sabres staffers that included team president Ted Black, general manager Darcy Regier and head coach Lindy Ruff.
Now in his 41st season with the Sabres, Jeanneret has created a lifetime of memories for Buffalo hockey fans with his passionate voice and memorable calls. But this wasn’t how the kid from Terrace Bay, Ontario, had mapped out his career path when he first got behind the mic. Instead of big saves and huge goals, Jeanneret was more interested in vinyl records than vulcanized rubber hockey pucks.
“I came to hockey by way of broadcasting, and now I can’t imagine having it any other way. My career will always be defined by hockey. But that wasn’t in the original plans. In my younger days when my career was just starting, I just wanted to be a broadcaster. Truth be told, I was more interested in being a rock and roll disc jockey than anything else. Am I glad that didn’t pan out.”
Jeanneret talked about his early days of calling Sabres games, including his first meeting with Danny Gallivan. The legendary voice of the Montreal Canadiens was one of Jeanneret’s idols, and he was awestruck by his first encounter with the man who made “cannonating drive” and “scintilating save” part of the hockey vocabulary.
“In my first year with the Sabres, there I sat, in the broadcast row of the old Montreal Forum. Just down the line sat Danny. It was a pretty overwhelming moment for a kid from the north shore of Lake Superior. And I thought, ‘ma will be proud of me today’ … as I’m sure she is right now.”
As he said those words, Jeanneret’s 92-year-old mother, Kay, sat beaming from her seat right in front of the podium. After previously stating that he wouldn’t accept any form of hall of fame recognition until he was retired, Jeanneret finally relented last year, saying that being able to have his mother there to share it with him was more important.
Today’s honor capped off Jeanneret's fourth Hall of Fame induction in the past 12 months, joining the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame, Buffalo Broadcasters Hall of Fame and the Buffalo Sabres Hall of Fame last November. Any fan who watched the ceremonies that night will never forget the sight of a jersey-clad Kay clapping feverishly from a suite while her son’s career was celebrated on the ice.
Seeing mother and son stand arm-in-arm today after the luncheon spoke volumes of their relationship and how much this day meant to her.
“I’m so proud of him I don’t have the words to express it. I’m very moved at this great son of mine,” said a still-smiling Kay Jeanneret. “When he was 17 or 18, (Rick) didn’t know what the heck he was going to do, and we were very upset. Somehow, he finally got into the radio business. He had a lot of rough times in his early years. But he’s a very strong person, and he’s had just a great career. I can’t tell you how proud I am of him today.”
Jeanneret capped off his four-minute acceptance speech by paying tribute to Foster Hewitt, the hockey broadcast pioneer the award is named after.
“The journey has been fun, educational and fulfilling. The destination? Flat out exotic. And so was it all worth it? RJ … FH. Rick Jeanneret … Foster Hewitt. You’re damn right it was worth it.”
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